Kikuji Mitani, an orphan and a bachelor in his late twenties. A singularly passive man, he finds himself embroiled in the subtle machinations of his dead father’s mistresses without having any clear sense of what he wants. He is given to much reflection about his father’s love life and meditations on the utensils of the tea ceremony connected with Mrs. Ota, but he falls into her arms and later into the arms of her daughter without equal thought. He is attracted to the woman proposed as a bride for him, Yukiko Inamura, but seems unable to wring himself away from the women who were involved with his father.
Chikako Kurimoto, a teacher of the tea ceremony. After a few years as the mistress of Mitani’s father, she seems to become sexless and appears to be fated to a lonely life because of a repulsively large black birthmark on her breasts. Unable to let go of the Mitani family after the affair, she becomes a family confidante, spewing her jealous resentment of the last mistress. She insists on being the go-between for Mitani and a young female student of hers. Finding Mitani hesitating between two young women, she tries to punish him by reporting that they are both married.
Yukiko Inamura, Chikako’s student and a prospective bride for Mitani. Elegant and pleasing, she carries a pink scarf with a pattern of a thousand cranes, an omen that seems very promising for Mitani’s future happiness.
Mrs. Ota, the widow of a fellow tea enthusiast of the elder Mitani. She was his mistress in the last years of his life. In her mid-forties, with a long white neck, small mouth and nose, full shoulders, and a warm, pliant manner, she seems to be attracted to Kikuji as a way of remembering his father. Clinging and affectionate, she is, however, consumed with guilt and commits suicide.
Fumiko Ota, Mrs. Ota’s daughter. She has inherited her mother’s long neck but has a fuller mouth and very sad eyes. Ashamed of her mother’s behavior, she nevertheless is also attracted to Mitani. She disappears mysteriously at the end, and there is a hint that she, too, may have committed suicide.